Category Archives: The Writing Journey

Why I recommend rather than review…

If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t write negative book reviews. It’s certainly true that I don’t love everything I read; I don’t even like everything I read. And yet, I almost always* choose to highlight the positive.

Here’s why…

1. I’m a writer — part of the writing community — and I don’t feel comfortable offering unsolicited public critique of my peers’ work.

2. I believe every book has its readers. Even if I don’t connect with a story, I can almost always point to its positive attributes, and hope the right reader picks it up.

3. There’s plenty of unpleasantness in the world as is, especially these days. I don’t have time or energy to waste on negativity. I prefer to celebrate books I love, rather than bash books I don’t enjoy.

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This isn’t to say that negative reviews are bad. While I appreciate enthusiastic praising when it comes to stories, I also see great value in thoughtful criticisms. That’s just not what I do here.

It’s simple, really. I boost books — particularly the books I love.
And you know what? It feels really good. 💙

*If I notice problematic (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc) content, I’ll say so.

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Welcome to the world, Jilly and Max!

It’s here, it’s here, it’s here!

Kissing Max Holden has finally (FINALLY!) made its way into the world — I can hardly believe it! 

FullSizeRender 5(Photo credit: Bridget AKA @DarkFaerieTales_)

In case you’re new around here, a brief summary of the story: 

After his father has a life-altering stroke, Max Holden isn’t himself. As his long-time friend, Jillian Eldridge only wants to help him, but she doesn’t know how. When Max climbs through her window one night, Jill knows that she shouldn’t let him kiss her. But she can’t resist, and when they’re caught in the act by her dad, Jill swears it’ll never happen again. Because kissing Max Holden is a terrible idea.

With a new baby sister on the way, her parents fighting all the time, and her dream of culinary school up in the air, Jill starts spending more and more time with Max. And even though her father disapproves and Max still has a girlfriend, not kissing him is easier said than done. Will Jill follow her heart and allow their friendship to blossom into more, or will she listen to her head and stop kissing Max Holden once and for all?

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I wrote about the beginnings of Kissing Max Holden‘s path to publication in On Patience, Perseverance, and the Elusive Book Deal, back in December, 2015 so I’ll spare you a rehashing of how selling this book was a long, bumpy road, but please do check out that post if you’re into book-ish origin stories, or if you’re working on getting your own manuscript sold and need a little inspiration in the way of sticking it out.

Today, I’d like to say thank you…

Thank you to Holly West and Lauren Scobell, who selected Kissing Max Holden from a wealth of truly excellent Swoon Reads submissions, and helped me shape it into the story it is today. And thank you to Kat Brzozowski, who’s offered such kindness and guidance and patience over the last year.

Thank you to Jean Feiwel, who took the genius idea of a crowd-sourced YA imprint and turned it into a reality, simultaneously making my dream of publication a reality.

Thank you to my ever diligent publicist, Kelsey Marrujo. Thank you to marketing superstar and early Kissing Max Holden champion Ashley Woodfolk. Thank you to Valerie Shea and Starr Baer for their copyediting prowess. Thank you to Emily Settle for all the things. Thank you to Rebecca Syracuse for the gorgeous, gorgeous cover. Thank you to everyone else at Swoon Reads, Fierce Reads, and Macmillan who had a hand in making my debut (and my debut experience!) so amazing.

Thank you to my agent, Victoria Marini, who is smart and honest and funny and real, and who’s stuck with me through it all.

Thank you to my little group of critiquers — Alison Miller, Temre Beltz, Riley Edgewood, and Elodie Nowodazkij — for their brilliant feedback, endless inspiration, and boundless enthusiasm. All writers should be so lucky to have friends like you.

Thank you to Jessica Love, Tracey Neithercott, Jaime Morrow, Christa Desir, and Erin Bowman for sharing their wisdom, humor, and priceless critiques on Kissing Max Holden at its various stages of storydom. This book is so much better because of you!

Thank you to the #SwoonSquad for being so welcoming and warm. Thank you to my fellow 2017 middle grade and young adult authors. Your support, pep talks, and commiseration have been invaluable. Thank you to the YA community for making me feel like one of you, even in the beginning. And thank you to Jessi Kirby, Miranda Kenneally, Jessica Love, Lisa Schroeder, and Erin Bowman for the beautiful blurbs.

Thank you to my parents, for indulging my lifelong love of reading, and for stressing the importance of education, and for making me feel loved at all times. Thank you to my brothers for providing plenty of fodder for my fictional familial relationships, and for accompanying me on the wild ride that was growing up. Thank you to my mother-in-law and father-in-law for their unwavering support, and thanks to the rest of my family for their constant excitement regarding my writing. You guys are the best!

An enormous, heart-shaped thank you to my husband, who shares Max’s best traits, who always knows how to cheer me up, and who happily orders pizza when I’m in the weeds. Thank you to my daughter, who has never stopped believing this would happen, and thank you to my littlest munchkin because even now, your love of books (and me!) shines bright.

And thank you — yes, you!

Thank you for asking about my writing, for sharing my shamelessly promotional tweets/posts/images, for asking me to come to your town for a signing, for passing out my bookmarks, for preordering Kissing Max Holden, for requesting it at your library, for talking about it with the readers in your life, for complimenting its cover, its summary, and its blurbs. Thank you, so much, for your tireless support.

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Because it’s release day, I’m going to drop a few links below — you know, should you want to order Kissing Max Holden for yourself or your favorite book lover. You should also be able to find it at most major brick-and-mortar book retailers, as well as many independent bookstores. If you can’t find it, just ask! Most stores are more than willing to order requested books. 🤗

  Order Kissing Max Holden from Amazon
Order Kissing Max Holden from Indie Bound
Order Kissing Max Holden from Barnes and Noble
Order Kissing Max Holden from BAM!
Order Kissing Max Holden from Target
Order Kissing Max Holden from Powell’s
Order a signed copy of Kissing Max Holden from One More Page Books

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Kissing Max Holden‘s launch party is this Saturday, August 5th, 7PM – 8PM at One More Page Books in Arlington, VA. All are welcome, and I hope to see you there!

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And I’ll be on tour next week, so if you’re in Richmond VA, Charlotte NC, Asheville NC, Atlanta GA, or Greenville SC, please do come see me, my tour buddy, Christina June, and our lovely special guests!

KSG Tour Graphic

For information on other future appearances, visit my Out and About page.

******

And… I think that’s it.

I’m officially an author now.

Dreams do come true. 💕

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

My friend Riley Edgewood got me started on Bullet Journaling, a notebook organizational system that helps with structuring your days/weeks/months. I like it because it’s super flexible and easy to change up day-to-day or week-to-week. I’ve been using my Bullet Journal to track habits, make to-do lists, catalogue IG challenges, scribble down book ideas and revisions notes, and all sorts of other things. Here’s a comprehensive video, if you’re curious. 

Reading

I recently finished The Year We Fell Apart, a contemporary YA romance. I enjoyed it very much, particularly the way Emily Martin gender-flipped the bad boy/good girl trope. Declan was totally swoonworthy! Now, I’m reading Summer Skin by Kristy Eagar, because Aussie authors are the freaking best.

Watching

Still obsessing over Game of Thrones and Outlander. I recently watched Laggies, which was entertaining and, in my opinion, under-hyped. My family and I saw The Jungle Book last weekend, which was InCrEdIbLe — such perfect casting. And my husband and I started watching Mercy Street, a PBS drama about two nurses who support opposing sides during the Civil War. It’s set close to where I live in Northern Virginia, so that’s fun.

Listening To

I recently finished Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath & the Dawn in preparation for its follow-up, The Rose & the Dagger. This rich, romantic fantasy’s just as incredible upon second read, and I can’t wait to dive into the sequel. Now, I’m listening to Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event. Guys, remember when I met Judy Blume? *happy sigh*

Thinking About

Our recent trip to President Lincoln’s Cottage, a beautiful house three miles from the White House where Lincoln and his family moved shortly after their son died of Typhoid fever (thanks to drinking water pumped right out of the Potomac). I had no idea this “cottage” even existed, but I’m so glad we left the beaten path to visit. The tour’s fantastic, and it was really cool to see a more humanized side of President Lincoln. Did you know he used to ditch his security detail so he could ride his horse into the city alone, and sometimes he’d pass by Walt Whitman and they’d give each other these respectful little bows? So cool. Highly recommend this spot if you’re ever visiting our nations’ capital.

Anticipating

I’m typing this post yesterday (Monday, May 9th) and I’m HIGHLY anticipating the Fierce Reads event I’m going to tonight at the Bethesda Library. Marie Rutkoski‘s going to be there, and  my inner fan girl is going cRaZy.

Wishing

You’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”.

Making Me Happy

I won Camp NaNoWriMo!
I’m chipping away at my second round of Kissing Max Holden edits.
I’m having tons of fun with a couple of Instagram challenges.
I’m reading two amazing books.
Summer’s right around the corner.

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

Barns. (Is that weird?) There are a couple in my current WiP, and we spotted a few that were really cool during a recent trip to Gettysburg. My husband, patient as he is, indulged my requests to “Pull over so I can get a picture!” I have no desire to live on an actual working farm, but I’d really love to have a beautiful red barn on my property one day.

Reading

In observance of Autism Awareness Month, I’m reading How to Say I Love You Out Loud by fellow Swoon Reads author Karole Cozzo and so far it’s excellent! Unrequited love and family discord are two of my favorite themes when it comes to contemporary YA, and How to Say I Love You Out Loud has both.

Watching

Outlander. I recently binged, and I’ve got a huge crush on Jamie (you’re welcome). I’m also obsessed with the history and the romance and the costumes — all of it. But oh God, the last two episodes of the first season… my heart. Also watching: Game of Thrones: predictably upsetting yet totally addictive. I’ve gotta say, I’m reading all sorts of rave reviews about the first episode of season 6, but I was kind of eh about it. I loved the scene where Cersei and Jaime talked about Myrcella (man, Cersei’s really starting to grow on me) and of course I adored Daenerys’s conversation with the Dothraki Khal, but Jon Snow… 😢

Listening To

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which is blowing me away. The four points of view are equally fascinating, and I can’t wait to see how each character’s story connects back to the others. I’m a big fan of Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy and so far, Salt to the Sea is just as extraordinary.

Thinking About

How to successfully close out Camp NaNoWriMo (I’m so close to meeting my goal!) while at the same time chipping away at round two of my Kissing Max Holden edits (it’s coming together, guys!). Traditionally, I’m not so great at juggling two projects at once, but I’m striving to become better as far as setting word-count/pages-revised targets and hitting them.

Anticipating

This Thursday’s lunch with two of my favorite writing buddies, this weekend’s proposed brunch with a couple of fellow Swanky Seventeens, getting my car back from the shop (sad day when you get side-swiped in a no-fault state), and some celebration-worthy news I’ll hopefully get to share with you soon…

Wishing

You’ll check out the following Goodreads lists: YA Novels of 2017YA Debuts 20172017 Debut YA/MG Novels, and Books Published by Swoon Reads. Kissing Max Holden has found its way onto all of them, which is so exciting! Maybe you’d like to vote for my debut, or add it as “To Read”. Also! Last week I interviewed 2016 debut author Lucy Keating about her recently released YA speculative fiction/romance, Dreamology for The Swanky Seventeens. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it. 😘

Making Me Happy

Springtime. We’ve been enjoying a stretch of beautiful weather and scores of lovely flowers are blooming and I’m feeling extra optimistic and cheerful.

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

Currently…

(I plan to do a “Currently…” post every other Tuesday. You should join me! Find the origins of the idea HERE.)

Currently

Loving

The recent restock I did of my Bath & Body Works cache. I’ve been a fan of their body creams and shower gels and candles since I worked there a million years ago, which is also when I discovered my signature scent: Moonlight Path. (A Thousand Wishes is a new favorite.) You can stock up, too, because Signature Scents are currently buy three, get two free. Such a bargain!

Reading

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore which is like Romeo and Juliet if the Capulets and Montagues were traveling circus-esque performers. The writing is lovely and the story is so imaginative. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Watching

Season 2 of The 100, finally! I’m woefully behind on TV viewing, but I’m definitely wrapped up in this second season of a show I never would’ve imagined liking. Movie-wise, my husband and I recently saw The Revenant, which was excellent. Super graphic and visceral and intense. I can totally see why Leonardo DiCaprio is getting so many accolades during this award season.

Listening To

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family, a non-fiction book that’s both compelling and accessible. It centers around a set of identical twin brothers, Jonas and Wyatt, and Wyatt’s slow (often rocky) transition into his true self, a girl named Nicole. I’ve learned so much about gender and gender identity thanks to this book, and I’m so impressed with Nicole and her strength. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Thinking About

The #AuthorLifeMonth photo challenge, hosted by Dahlia Adler. It’s all about books and writing and inspiration, and I’m having a blast with it. Check out the hashtag on Instagram for pictures from days 1 and 2, then join us!

Anticipating

My birthday… It’s in a few weeks and I’ll be 35 and I’m feeling pretty chill about it, actually. Here’s to another year of wisdom and experience, I guess. 😉

Wishing

For another month of excellent reading. January was full of stand-out books, all of which I reviewed in my monthly Wrap-Up post. If you’re looking for recommendations, I’ve got four YAs and an adult fantasy (The Night Circus — love, love, love!) for you to consider. Hopefully February will bring just as many amazing stories.

Making Me Happy

Remember my last Currently… post, in which I wished for snow? Well, we got it! A legit blizzard hammered the east coast; it started snowing last Friday at lunchtime and didn’t stop until late Saturday night. We had feet of snow — there’s still tons of it lining the roads. My daughter and her friends have had so much fun playing in it (she was out of school for seven days, plus the weekend in-between) and we didn’t lose power, so well done, winter.

 
 

Did you post a “Currently…” this week?
Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to visit! 

On Patience, Perseverance, & the Elusive Book Deal

In case you missed it, Kissing Max Holden sold to Swoon Reads/Macmillan!

What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been! I’m thrilled, grateful, overwhelmed (in the best way), and just really, really relieved.

You see, I was starting to think this publishing thing might not happen for me. I’ve been at it a long time. I’ve had a lot of almosts and not-quites and so many incidents of um, maybe… wait, actually… no, thanks I’d need a bazillion blog posts to cover them all.

Real talk: It’s been a challenge to press on, to keep at it through years of polite declines. It’s been tough to keep writing through persistent disappointment. I’ve considered giving up more times than I can count.

Some backstory…

I began writing with the goal of publication when my daughter was a year old. We lived in a rainy Washington town, then moved to beautiful Monterey, then to the steamy Florida panhandle, then to bustling Virginia – moves during which I continued to draft stories. As I’ve meandered around the country and along the rutted road to publication, my husband has left for and returned from four separate deployments and earned a master’s degree, and my daughter has become a confident, story-loving third grader. I’ve written through tons of change and loads of personal challenges, along with countless revisions, hundreds of rejections, and dozens of Katy’s a wonderful writer, but

Kissing Max Holden‘s sale hasn’t come easy.

When I started my first manuscript in 2008, I was convinced it would be The One. I would field multiple offers from agents, and then my tome (let’s call it what it was) would sell at auction and be loved be all, the end.

That manuscript didn’t sell, or even score me an agent. It was really, really bad.

I wrote a second manuscript, the plotless, melodramatic story that, after many years and many rewrites, would become Kissing Max Holden. Even then, messy and flawed, I loved it. I queried it, and while it was received with more enthusiasm than my first effort, it didn’t go anywhere.

It was around this time that a lot of my writer friends were starting to sign with literary agents and (seemingly quickly and with very few hurdles) began to sell their books. I was thrilled for them. Truly. But I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a little jealous, too.

I wrote a third manuscript — a ghost story, my strongest yet — and signed with an agent. She submitted the manuscript to editors. It didn’t sell, but that was okay because it’s not uncommon for first-books-on-sub to go unsold. I started working on that plotless, melodramatic manuscript again, the future Kissing Max Holden, because Jillian and Max were still in my head. But then I had to set it aside because things went awry with my then-agent, who I ultimately left.

I was discouraged – I felt like I’d taken a huge step backward – so I worked harder. I signed with a new agent, Victoria Marini, who is awesome. I wrote a new manuscript, a bleak tale with three 3rd-person points of view and a tragic ending. Drafting it was difficult but fulfilling, and editors generally liked the story, but not enough to buy it.

I was really disappointed.

So, I went back to my previous manuscripts; I was looking for familiarity, for comfort. I worked on the ghost story I’d first been signed for, and the manuscript that’s now Kissing Max Holden. I developed characters. I raised stakes. I intensified relationships. I improved pacing. I rewrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. My work improved and, in the meantime, I experienced some submission close-calls. But no successes.

Years had passed since I started writing and, honestly, I felt like I’d done my time in the trenches. I’d congratulated my more triumphant friends with sincere smiles and undeniable pings of envy. I’d waded through some serious BS and a lot of rejection. Surely it would be my turn soon.

I wrote on, because what else was I supposed to do?

I branched out; I drafted a story about an epic road trip, and worked on a NaNoWriMo project with bits of verse. I read a lot. I revised a lot. I went on a writing retreat. I traded manuscripts with my talented CPs, and learned from their writing. I tried to focus more on the craft, the art, the experience, and less on the business.

Still, Jillian and Max and their complicated romance lingered. Kissing Max Holden was my second attempt at a novel, and the first time I felt like I might be able to make it at this writing thing. Authors often talk about the “book of their heart” – a story that is personal and particularly significant. To borrow from Beth Revis, a project that is “ripped from their soul” and means more than any other. For me, that book has always been Kissing Max Holden. Even as I wrote new stories, lovely stories that made me proud, I couldn’t let this story go.

And then I happened upon Swoon Reads

See, the Swoon Reads model is different. Instead of manuscripts languishing in slush piles or on editors’ desks while writers wait and wonder and stress, Swoon Reads puts power into the hands of real readers. It works like this: Writers upload their manuscripts, promote them as they see fit, and hope Swoon Reads members will read, rate, and comment. Manuscripts that are highly rated are read and considered for publication by the Swoon Reads staff.

To me, Kissing Max Holden felt like the perfect Swoon Reads story – it’s about falling in love, after all. And so, after several months of research and consideration, I uploaded my story to the site. Then I (anxiously) waited for the November 15th deadline – the date after which the Swoon Reads staff would start considering manuscripts.

While I waited, I did two things: I started a new story (it’s currently sitting pretty at 30K words) and applied to be a substitute teacher in my daughter’s school district, mostly because I was tired of piling all my eggs in the book deal basket.

Seriously. What if it never happened?

Between drafting my new story and obsessively checking Swoon Reads ratings, I accepted a one-month substitute teaching position. I figured Swoon Reads would need weeks (at the very least) to read manuscripts and come to a decision about which stories to pursue. I figured I’d be done with my long-term sub job by the time I heard anything, good or bad. I figured I’d keep busy while I waited…

Wouldn’t you know it — I got an email from Swoon Reads just as I was leaving school after my very first day of substitute teaching.

They wanted to talk about Kissing Max Holden.

I had a delightful chat with Swoon Reads staffers Lauren and Holly — about my story, its strengths and weaknesses, revision ideas, and an actual publishing contract. My heart was pounding and my head was spinning, but there was never a question in my mind as to whether I would choose to work with Swoon Reads; I couldn’t wait to work with Swoon Reads!

Lots has happened between then and now: emails with my agent, emails with Swoon Reads, phone calls with my husband and my family, a celebratory pizza-and-Bud-Light dinner, revision brainstorming sessions, and a mock-up book cover drawn by my daughter.

Honestly, it still doesn’t feel real. But it is, and I’m over the moon. I have been since the day I got that first Swoon Reads email…

I’ve been at this writing thing long enough to learn some stuff, and since I’m being all reflective and candid, I thought I’d share the nuggets of wisdom I’ve collected over the years…

  1. Everyone’s journey is different. There is no right or wrong road to publication. Don’t be afraid to try knew things – to take chances!
  2. Positivity is crucial. Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed as badly as you want to succeed yourself.
  3. Timing is very much a factor. So is luck.
  4. Nobody is judging you for how long you’ve been at it — except for, maybe, you. Keep your eyes on your own paper is very good advice.
  5. If you seek representation, sign with a competent, encouraging, savvy agent. Trust your intuition.
  6. Be kind. Be gracious. Return favors. Say thank you. People will remember you and the way you’ve behaved.
  7. Write the sort of book you want to read. Your story has to interest you before it’ll interest anyone else.
  8. Related: Write the sort of book that’ll stretch your skills and your creativity. Learn. Grow.
  9. Find smart, supportive CPs. When in doubt (or in need of a boost), turn to those CPs.
  10. Always have your next project(s) in mind.
  11. Don’t. Give. Up.

Finally, all the gratitude to my husband and my daughter, my parents and my in-laws – thank you for believing this would happen. Victoria – thank you for sticking with me, for your savviness and positivity. Alison, Temre, Riley, Elodie – thank you for years of friendship, emails of commiseration, and words of encouragement. You (and your writing) inspire me. Tracey, Amie, Jessica, Liz, Erin, Amanda, Jolene, Jaime, Kate, Taryn, and Christa, thank you for your support and feedback and enthusiasm. My writing is better because of you. And to everyone who read, rated, and commented on Kissing Max Holden over at Swoon Reads… I owe you oodles of cookies!

YA Buccaneers Guest Post

Friends, today I’m guest posting at one of my favorite group blogs: YA Buccaneers. I’m sharing what I learned from posting my contemporary YA romance Kissing Max Holden at Swoon Reads.

Come say hello! 😘